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How Cleaning Can Impact Your Creativity

Two weeks ago I was browsing in my local indie bookstore and found The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You might have heard of this bestseller. It’s big both here and in Japan. I flipped through the pages and immediately bought it as a stocking-stuffer for my husband.

And then decided to read it for myself. Heh.

Enter evil little grin.

photo found here: 

During a 3am insomnia bout, I started in my closet and worked my way into my office, which I share with my husband. I scanned, pitched, and sorted until only what we actually need remained.

Then I went through my wall hangings and bulletin board and made sure I only see images and phrases that bring me joy. Now whenever I see the walls by my desk, I go all Pollyanna with happiness and want to get creating.

So, why bother devoting an entire blog post to cleaning? I mean, most of us spend our lives trying to avoid chores like cleaning.

Because having a clean space can impact our creativity.

It’s similar to plants. Too many plants crammed into too little space leads to competition over precious nutrients. The plants that do survive end up pithy and weak. They’ve poured so much energy into competing with their environment they ceased to thrive.

Creativity works the same way. When a place is messy, there is so much extra stimuli in the environment we waste energy competing with it while trying to focus. By the time we’ve settled down to create, so much of our subconscious attention is drained elsewhere our creativity turned pithy.

When the space around me becomes crowded and cluttered, my thoughts become crowded and cluttered. My ideas become disorganized, and I’m more likely to jump from project to project without finishing any. Even brainstorming becomes a challenge because I’m bombarding with so many different impulses and to-dos and images, none of them make sense.

Creativity, like plants, works best with room to breathe and grow. A clean, organized physical space around me leads to a clean, organized space in my mind. I can tackle my projects with more enthusiasm and creativity because I am not wasting any energy by staring at bills to file, sorted mail piles, workshop notes to scan, empty gesso jars, furniture receipts . . .

Does creativity need clean, physical space? Well, no. You can create anywhere, even smushed in like sardines on a 12-hour plane ride while inhaling recycled air. But you might not enjoy it as much. And if you aren’t enjoying the creative process, are you really able to produce your best work? (if you do enjoy the mess . . . well. I wonder what Freud would say. Just kidding.)

Though sometimes, the only time we can create is in the middle of great physical chaos (anybody with kiddos (or a spouse) would agree there). You can only win so many battles.

So why try cleaning and purging? I want to live a full, creative live. Since I’m sick half the time, I want to take advantage of every moment I’m feeling well enough to make something beautiful. And if something as simple as tidying can help me be more creative, then don’t I owe it to myself to at least try?

I think so. At least, that’s the excuse I give my husband during my 3am cleaning runs.

What about you? Are you a messy creative person or clean creative person?

This Post Has 5 Comments

    1. right? Maybe that’s why we tend to procrastinate and clean everything before a big project. Or, maybe it’s not procrastination at all but a way for our brain to try to organize itself? something to think about…

  1. I’ve read that book! I wouldn’t call myself a neatnik, but I do find a lot of enjoyment in organizing and making spaces beautiful. Once I’ve got my space in order, I find it so much easier to think–a bit of dusting off and fluffing the pillows of the mental furniture, perhaps. I’m definitely a clean creative person, if only to keep better track of my projects!

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